What do published rulesets ever do for us?

I know several rpg rulesets well. I have hacked some of them extensively. I have designed a few of my own games whole-cloth. If I want to run a traditional rpg in a particularly setting or style and I don't know a ruleset that's right for it, I can probably hack something to fit.

Yet I'm still interested in learning new published rulesets. Not just high-concept storygames with very distinctive rules — I'm up for learning quite traditional rpgs. I'm doing this with Zweihander right now.

I find learning and using third party rules hard work, though. I can sink hours into learning, more hours into GM prep (slowly, because I'm clumsy and awkward the unfamiliar rules), and several hours at least into unsatisfying play (because it turns out I don't actually enjoy this weird new game). My experiences with new games is mixed, to say the least.

So why do it? Why bother? What's to gain?

I don't find those trivial questions. I've put my best answers and put them in a blog post. I've hawked that around Reddit and rpg.net, and I've revised it based on the discussion there. Finally, I bring it to Storygames, where (if nothing else) I suspect I'll get responses from people whose relationships with GM'd-game-rules are as troubled as mine...


  • While there are some exceptions to this rule, I tend to agree with the truism that most "traditional roleplaying" games are fairly similar in method/procedure, "just using different dice".

    In some ways, many traditional RPGs are basically hacks of each other - they use the same basic ideas and themes and procedures, and just alter the details so as to work in a different setting or to adjust the parameters to be better suited to a more specific focus. Kind of like PbtA games, traditional RPGs might be considered to be "Powered by D&D" or some such - generally, they fit under a particular school of design thought.

    In other words, reading or playing a new game in this mold is unlikely to challenge me in terms of inspiring new thoughts or design ideas, and also less likely to change the play behaviour at my gaming table to create something new.

    Therefore, if I'm reading or playing a traditional game (which I rarely do these days) I'm looking out for the following:

    * Any clever or unusual rules applications. Maybe it's a neat way to change probabilities or outputs (e.g. how some D&D enthusiasts get excited about "bounded accuracy"), maybe it's a neat solution to a problem, maybe it's a clever technique for presenting or recording information.

    These can give me tools as a designer I can bring to other projects.

    I've sometimes been tempted to buy Greg Porter's games, for example, because of his ability to be incredibly clever and elegant with game mechanics, even though I have no interest in playing the games themselves.

    * Fictional content, premise, details: ideas, lists, NPCs, items. Random tables can be borrowed. The idea of a floating city powered on people's dreams might be interesting to read about.

    * Any unusual bits and pieces (often found in "advice") which may have been overlooked by players. Yes, many of these games are similar to each other, but sometimes not as much "on paper" as they are in practice. Maybe everyone plays Vampire like it's modern-day D&D, but, actually, the advice in the book suggests something rather different.

    These details can be fun to seek out; it might be adventure design, GM advice, game structure, GM prep tools, or other ideas. (For instance, older editions of D&D have all kinds of advice on mapping, having a "caller", recording campaign logs, and other details which are often forgotten or overlooked but might be interesting or useful to some game project of mine - or just interesting to try.)
  • edited August 2018
    To support game designers who create cool material?

    Is that an appropriate answer here? I mean If we do cultivate a truly indie community of designers, we surely can just share everything freely, but that doesn't pay the bills right?

    The only other answer I can think of is that its easier to get some of our friends to play published games rather than hacked together systems. There is sometimes a quality stigma associated with open source emergent content vs something that comes in the form of a glossy published book. And I know some who just aren't interested in any form of "playtesiting." But if I say "here's something I bought", I might get more takers.

    Sorry if this is something you already said in your blogpost, TLDR :/
  • edited August 2018
    Kenny_J — TL, Missed a Key Nuance

    ... but the title I realise is misleading. By "published games" I mean "complete games written by a third party". Can be open source, freeware, commercial. All the same from my POV here.

    What would be a better term? "Third party games", perhaps?

    (Edit — by "published" I mean "put out in the wild with the implication that they're finished, polished, ready for general use". I don't meant they have to be for money, but I'm talking about more than just some hacked up mess in a blog post.)
  • Well that is my bad. Let me get back to you after I have a moment to give some more in depth thoughts.
  • edited August 2018
    Ok, I pretty much I stand by my comments. I would say the "published" material on the indie end you might buy it and read it just for the sake of support. But that's not really the spirit of what your asking.

    As for my second thought, I guess I'm agreeing with "/u/Fheredin." He uses the word authority, I might say legitimacy. For some folks its that sense that an already put together thing has that Authority/legitimacy that they are looking for, permission might be another good word here. A published something gives the players permission to stick with it, permission to enjoy without wanting to fix.

    I agree with a lot of your other points on the uses, and I will also echo Paul, I read to get knew ideas and make connections I otherwise wouldn't have, same for playing when I'm really interested in something.
  • I basically agree with Paul, except that rather than mining "traditional" RPGs, I look for the games that do something really different. Masks and its "your stats are your self image" schtick, for example, is a RADICAL departure from anything I'd seen before, and that makes it cool and interesting to me.

    But... what's to gain? Different types of play, obviously. Sure, I could play Monopoly forever, but using different rules makes a different game and a different experience.
  • edited August 2018
    Since traditional games do a lot of simulation and reality-modeling (or at least causality-modeling), I really like learning different games' approaches to that. In X situation, which factors are important and how do we account for them? What do a character's strengths and weaknesses depend on? Can the player dictate their character's actions freely at all times, or might there be internal obstacles, Unknown Armies stress checks, etc.?

    Also, combat. How do we balance combat as strategy game with combat as simulation with combat as exciting experience?

    Setting material is also a big one. Do the setting's particulars make it into the rules?

    I think a lot of published rulesets have at least something interesting to say on one or more of these.
  • Thanks all. I think my blog post covers all the general themes here, but it's interesting to see the examples and subtypes you raise.
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